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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

3 Reasons Why Congress Must Protect Climate-Smart Agriculture Programs in the Farm Bill

The IRA put billions into USDA’s hands to support farmers with climate-smart agriculture. Now, Congress must protect it.

The U.S. capitol building and a farm silo side by side.



At a Glance: The IRA included billions to support sustainable farming that helps farmers and tackles climate change, but Congressional Republicans are threatening to use the 2024 Farm Bill to remove the much-needed climate guardrails that support these programs. Here are three reasons why we can’t let them:

  1. These programs cut climate pollution and build more resilient rural communities. 
  2. Farmers want and need these programs and demand actually exceeds supply. 
  3. These programs put money into farmers’ pockets and into communities. 


When the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in August 2022, America’s farmers received an extra bump in conservation funding. Freshly equipped with billions for climate-smart agriculture programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) became ready to support farmers as they face crop-damaging floods and livestock-killing heatwaves.  

But here’s the bad news: Republicans in Congress are threatening to use the 2024 Farm Bill reauthorization to remove the critical climate parameters for the programs that deliver real economic benefits to farmers. These programs are so popular that there are consistently more farmers applying than available funding.

After decades of disinvestment, rural and agricultural communities deserve investments in a thriving, clean energy economy that will deliver jobs, justice, and climate resilience, not a backslide in support. 

Right now, Congress has a powerful opportunity to protect the billions for climate-smart agriculture programs. But first, let’s cover what the Farm Bill is and why it matters—whether or not you’re a farmer. 


What’s the Farm Bill? 

The first Farm Bill dates back to the 1930s when America was at the height of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl was ripping across the Great Plains. When the Agricultural Adjustment Act passed in 1933 as part of the New Deal, the legislation’s intent was to keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers, while preserving natural resources to stop future environmental disasters like the Dust Bowl. 

Today, the Farm Bill is a package of legislation that Congress renews every five years. This legislation governs policies related to the agricultural sector, including farm income support and food assistance. And right now, Congress is drafting text to reauthorize the newest version of the Farm Bill.

Now, just as farmers of the 1930s required federal intervention to avert another environmental disaster like the Dust Bowl, today’s farmers need federal support through the 2024 Farm Bill to help conserve their lands and adapt to the climate crisis. 

A dust storm engulfing small farming houses in the 1930s.

The Farm Bill was created to support farmers through the Dust Bowl, which was catastrophic and intensified the economic impact of the Great Depression. Photo: A dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas in 1935.

How Can the Farm Bill Help Tackle the Climate Crisis?

From the crop-damaging floods in Vermont to livestock-killing heatwaves in Nebraska,  the climate crisis is harming rural and agricultural communities right now. Many of America’s farms, especially small-scale family farms, operate on razor-thin profit margins, and increasingly severe weather events are disrupting their operations and hitting their pocketbooks hard.

At the same time, the agricultural sector currently makes up over 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. These harmful emissions stem from diverse sources. For example, over-using fertilizers on crops releases nitrous oxide, a planet-warming greenhouse gas that is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Livestock like cattle, sheep, and goats produce methane pollution as they digest their food, while manure deposits result in nitrous oxide and methane pollution. Together, these potent greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and drive climate change. 

A field of wilted corn and dry soil.

Today, farmers need federal support to help conserve lands and adapt to the increasingly severe weather events caused by the climate crisis. © 2013 USDA/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s the good news: When Congress passed the IRA in August 2022, they understood that farmers are at the frontline of the climate crisis. At the same time, it was clear that climate-smart agriculture practices could support farmers in adapting to severe weather events, while reducing climate pollution. That’s why the historic act included billions in additional funding for existing conservation programs, the largest investment in agricultural conservation funding since the Dust Bowl. These programs include: 

  1. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) - $8.45 billion for technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners  integrate climate-smart conservation practices into agricultural operations.
  2. Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) - $3.25 billion for funds and technical assistance to agricultural producers to improve their level of existing conservation efforts.
  3. Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) - $1.4 billion to pay landowners, land trusts, and other entities to protect working farms from developments, keep their land, and restore wetlands. 
  4. Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) - $4.95 billion towards partnerships that help farmers carry out climate-smart conservation activities that are priorities for the local state or region. 
  5. Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) - $1 billion, as well as $300 million to measure, evaluate, and quantify carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas pollution reductions from conservation investments. 
Read: USDA’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Programs Explained


Congress ensured that the billions top-up for USDA’s conservation programs was tied to climate parameters. That means that the additional funding must be used for climate-smart agriculture practices that reduce, capture, avoid, or sequester harmful climate pollution like methane and nitrous oxide. 

These climate-smart agricultural practices are already well-known among farmers and offer immediate, on-farm economic benefits. These practices include planting cover crops, wetland restoration, reduced-till and no-till, nutrient management, prescribed grazing, tree planting, and more.

Already, these once-in-a-generation IRA investments are proving wildly successful. And USDA’s climate-smart agriculture programs remain so popular that there are more farmer, landowner, and rancher applicants than available spots. 

But as negotiations for the 2024 Farm Bill heat up, Republicans have proposed removing the IRA’s specific climate-smart agriculture parameters, throwing all of this progress backward.  Fortunately, Senator Debbie Stabenow (Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, D-MI) is actively working to prevent any efforts to remove the billions in climate-related agriculturefunding from the 2024 Farm Bill. Now, it’s up to Congress—and specifically, House Democrats—to protect this additional IRA climate-smart agriculture funding in the 2024 Farm Bill.

Here are three reasons why Congress should protect the climate-smart agriculture investments in the Farm Bill: 

Senator Debbie Stabenow speaking to fellow congresspeople on her right, at a meeting.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (left) is actively working to protect billions of funding for climate-smart agriculture from the 2024 Farm Bill. © 2015 USDA/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

1. USDA’s Programs Crack Down on Climate Pollution, While Making Rural Communities More Climate Resilient

Climate-smart practices help farmers tackle environmental and water pollution, while also cutting planet-warming methane and nitrous oxide pollution. For example, planting medium- or long-term cover crops helps sequester carbon dioxide into soils, while also trapping excess nitrogen. Similarly, planting native trees or shrubs sequesters and stores carbon, while helping prevent erosion. And cracking down on excess fertilizer through nutrient management reduces planet-warming nitrous oxide pollution and water contamination. 

At the same time, climate-smart agriculture practices can increase climate resilience during extreme weather events. For example, cover crops and no-till practices increase soil health and water-holding capacity, making crops more resilient to intensifying droughts or floods. 

We can’t afford to disinvest in farm operations, farm workers, and rural communities that supply America’s food during a mounting climate crisis. Our food systems must be protected from the climate crisis, and shouldn’t unnecessarily contribute to it—climate-smart agriculture programs will help with just that. 


2. USDA’s Programs Are Popular and Have More Applicants Than Available Spots

Application statistics show that USDA’s climate-smart agriculture programs are popular and beneficial and consistently have more applicants than available spots. Take, for example, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). 

Each program is regularly inundated with applications from farmers and producers. In 2022, CSP and EQIP rejected more than 110,000 farmers. According to a USDA presentation in August 2023 and a recent press release, even with additional IRA funds, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the USDA body that administers these programs, still receives more requests for each of these programs than there is available funding.

Moreover, recent analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) found that farmers and ranchers in 2023 still used “significant Farm Bill baseline funding on top of IRA funding to implement even more climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices.” This shows overwhelming farmer demand specifically for climate-smart agriculture programs, and proves why we need to protect these guardrails.

What’s more, support for these programs remains strong, with 644 organizations, businesses, and farmers sending a letter to Congress to protect the billions in climate-smart agriculture conservation programs through the Farm Bill. 

Revoking needed funding for USDA’s climate-smart agriculture and conservation programs would be a mistake for farmers, their communities, and our environment—especially when these programs are consistently in high demand and benefit all farmers and ranchers. 

Two farmers harvesting peanuts for their family business.

Bee (left) and Chai's (right) family used USDA funding to purchase equipment to protect their peanut farm from severe weather. Climate-smart agriculture programs can help farmers maintain a steady production and income year-round.

3. USDA’s Programs Deliver Real Economic Benefits to Farming Communities 

Climate-smart agriculture practices put money in farmers’ pockets. For example, lowering inputs of fertilizer doesn’t just mean less pollution—it also translates to cost savings for farmers. These savings are significant when fertilizer accounts for nearly one-fifth of farmers’ cash costs. Similarly, the ACEP program’s conservation easements deliver concrete economic benefits to farmers. By donating development rights, farmers receive a significant tax reduction, allowing them to keep farming with lower taxes. Losing climate-smart agriculture funds could render farms more vulnerable to severe weather impacts like flooding and drought, destabilizing small farmers’ economic security. 

It’s no wonder why the demand for USDA’s climate-smart agriculture programs exceeds the availability of funds. They deliver real economic benefits to rural communities, while making rural communities more climate resilient. It’s time for Congress to protect USDA’s billions in climate-smart agriculture programs in the 2024 Farm Bill.